Intel's latest 730 Series solid-state drive (SSD) is the first from the company that comes with a factory-overclocked SSD controller and NAND bus speeds. However, performance is not its strongest suit, but rather, its endurance.
In my testing, the new SSD was fast, though far from the fastest I've seen. It supports RAID configurations, and when used in RAID 0 its performance was basically doubled. But that's true for most, if not all, RAID-enabled SSDs. The drive has about the same power consumption as a standard 2.5-inch hard drive, which means it won't help with a laptop's battery life.
Design and features
Available in the now-familiar 7mm chassis, the new 730 Series drive resembles previous Intel SSDs, such as the
|Device type||7mm, 2.5-inch SSD||same|
|Interface||SATA 3, SATA 2||same|
|Controller||Third-gen Intel controller||same|
|NAND flash memory||20nm Intel MLC flash||same|
|Random read||86,000 IOPS||89,000 IOPS|
|Random write||56,000 IOPS||74,000 IOPS|
|Sequential read||550 MB/s||550 MB/s|
|Sequential write||270 MB/s||470 MB/s|
|Mean time between failures||2 million hours||same|
|Energy consumption||3.8W (1.5W idle)||5.5W (1.5W idle)|
|Endurance||70GB written daily||same|
Intel says the new drive comes with a factory-overclocked SSD controller and NAND bus speeds. The controller clock is now at 600Mhz (up from 400Mhz in the previous model), and the NAND bus speed is now at 100Mhz (up from 83Mhz). It also comes with firmware optimized for clients (workstation and home PCs). In all, this is an SSD for the masses rather than for server applications. This also explains why it doesn't support hardware encryption, which requires supported motherboards -- generally available only in an enterprise environment -- to work properly.
The most impressive feature of the 730 Series is its endurance rating. All SSDs have a finite number of write, or program/erase cycles (P/E cycles), meaning you can only write so many times to them before they become unreliable. (Read more about endurance here.) Intel guarantees that you can write about 70GB on the new 730 Series per day, every day, for five years. Now, 70GB is a lot of data; most of us don't write even one-tenth of that on a given day, and definitely not every day. In short, you will likely have another reason to replace the drive well before it runs out of P/E cycles.
Cost per gigabyte
At the current cost of $249 (240GB) or $489 (480GB), the new Intel SSD 730 is slightly more than $1 per gigabyte and is one of the most expensive consumer-grade SSDs on the market. This is the suggested retail price, however, and the street price is likely lower when the drive is available for purchase next month. The drive does come with a 5-year warranty which somewhat justifies its pricing. Plus, it promises to last for a very long time.
In comparison, however, many other SSDs on the market are significantly cheaper. The Samsung 840 Evo, for example, costs close to just 50 cents per gigabyte; it's also faster and offers up to 1TB of storage space.
Despite the overclocked controller and flash memory, the 730 Series didn't blow me away with its performance. It's by no means slow, however. When tested as a secondary drive, it registered a sustained sequential write speed of 266MBps and a read speed of 267MBps. When used as the main storage device, hosting the operating system and performing both writing and reading at the same time, it scored 190MBps. In all, that's about the average I've seen among other recently reviewed SSDs.
I also tested the drive with PC Mark 8, which benchmarks the entire system. The 730 Series received its best score on the Storage test with a score of 4,868. Still, this was below average. For the Home and Work benchmark, which is geared toward measuring the performance for home and work applications, respectively, it registered just 2,748 and 3,729, respectively, among the lowest I've seen in SSDs.
I did try two units of the 730 Series together in a RAID 0 setup in a anecdotal test, and the performance was indeed significantly improved -- almost double what I got using just a single drive. However, this is to be expected in almost all RAID 0 setups utilizing any supported SSDs.
Overall, don't let the numbers bother you. If you're still using a hard drive on your computer, switching to the Intel SSD 730 Series will definitely bring the system to a much higher level.
The new Intel SSD 730 Series doesn't have much that impresses in terms of performance, but it has an excellent endurance rating, and the included five-year warranty means that Intel is really behind the drive's quality. If you're looking for a reliable SSD to build your own system or to upgrade a desktop that still runs on a hard drive, this new SSD will make a great choice, especially once its price drops below $1 per gigabyte.
If battery life is also a concern, however, I'd recommend a drive with better power consumption, such as the Samsung 840 Evo, which is also currently a lot more affordable.